US event rider Karen O'Connor and Mandiba, winners at the 2010 Rebecca Farm World Cup competition in Montana. © StockImageServices.com/FEI
"If the technology is available to reduce head injuries, the time to use it is now," said USEF President David O'Connor. "I am very proud of our organization for taking this very important step. It is a huge direction of change."
The eventing rule change requires anyone on a horse to wear a ASTM/SEI-approved helmet at all times while mounted on competition grounds at US nationally rated horse trials competitions, effective immediately.
The United States Eventing Association (USEA) helped shepherd the rule change through the USEF committees during USEF's Annual Meeting.
"The attention to safety in eventing has led to a 40 percent decrease in rider injuries between 2007 and 2011," said Malcolm Hook, USEF Eventing Safety Officer and chair of the USEF Eventing Technical Committee. "The Eventing Technical Committee could see no reason to delay implementation of a probably inevitable and statistically justifiable rule change in an effort to continue this encouraging trend."
The new dressage rule is less strict, requiring anyone mounted on a horse, except those riders age 18 and over, to wear protective headgear while on horses that are competing only in FEI levels and tests at the Prix St. Georges level and above (including FEI Young Rider Tests, the USEF Developing Prix St. Georges Test and the USEF Brentina Cup Test). The rule is effective March 1, 2011.
The USEF Board of Directors approved both the eventing and dressage helmet rule changes on January 23 at the conclusion of USEF's Annual Meeting.
Sara Ike, USEF managing director of eventing, said that while eventing riders long have been moving toward tougher rules, it wasn't until early 2010, after Olympic dressage rider Courtney King Dye was seriously injured in a riding accident that the dressage world began to seriously consider stricter helmet use.
"Dressage riders called the Courtney King accident their '9-11'," Ike said.
King Dye, who remained in a coma for a month following her accident, was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident and currently is undergoing rehabilitation.